The Ethics of War

, Sarah Carlsruh, Leave a comment

The U.N. Human Rights Council released a September report on their fact-finding mission on Gaza, often referred to as the Goldstone Report because Justice Richard Goldstone headed the mission. This report’s goal, it stated, was to “investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law that might have been committed” militarily during the winter 2008-2009 Gaza War. However, on September 16th Israel President Shimon Peres responded that it “makes a mockery of history.”

Israeli Defense Force (IDF) Reserve Colonel Bentzi Gruber agreed with President Peres at an October 29th Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET) event, “Ethics in the Field.” Col. Gruber defended the IDF’s ethical code and how it impacts the Israeli forces’ struggle in the war against a “new, [non-uniformed] enemy.”

After Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip approximately two years ago, Israel imposed an embargo on the region, triggering the emergence of underground tunnels connecting Gaza to Egypt. According to an October 22nd New York Times article, “about 1,500 of [the tunnels] are said to be crammed into an eight-mile stretch along the border.” The Times also reported that “Hamas runs some tunnels of its own, but local residents say the group does not collect taxes from those that are privately owned.”

Israel was strongly condemned in the Goldstone Report for their military operations in the Gaza War, or what the IDF has dubbed “Operation Cast Lead.” Col. Gruber called Goldstone’s report biased and ill-informed and said that Goldstone “just spread lies.” Goldstone was only in Gaza for a few hours and only “interviewed people that Hamas brought to him,” claimed Col. Gruber.

The Goldstone Report claimed that two field visits were conducted in Gaza between May 30th and June 6th and field investigations were deployed there from May 22nd to July 4th with public hearings held in Gaza on June 28th and 29th.

Col. Gruber served a stint in Gaza, working with the IDF to destroy the tunnels, which he said were used to smuggle “drugs, cigarettes, oil, gas, and, of course, ammunition.” An October 9th Gulf News article quotes Gaza economist Omar Shaba’an saying that “[t]he tunnels have become the main source of commodities in Gaza.” The Gulf News article also reported that “the tunnels are now one of the territory’s lifelines and are seen as key to keeping Hamas, the group of Islamic fighters, in power.” Similarly, the Goldstone Report found that the blockade, with its “restrictions on the goods that can be imported into Gaza and the closure of border crossings for people, goods and services” undermined the “capacities of the population and of the health, water and other public sectors to react to the emergency created by the military operations.”

“If you are not stopping the tunnel, you can fight in Gaza [for] ten year[s],” claimed Gruber. Thus, he and his fellow IDF-members, searching along the Israel-occupied Filadelfi Road along the border, would seek out tunnel routes; when they found the tunnel, he said, they “blew it up.”

The IDF code of ethics, argued Col. Gruber, constrains them from committing the same moral violations he sees Palestinian fighters as perpetrating. “Don’t harm the innocent,” was listed as rule number one in his slide show on IDF ethics. Another important code was that of proportionality—that is, “collateral damage in proportion to the threat.”

Richard Kemp, former British forces commander in Afghanistan, told the BBC during the Gaza War that he did not think “there has ever been a time in the history of warfare when any army has made more efforts to reduce civilian casualties and deaths of innocent people than the IDF is doing today in Gaza.”  The Goldstone Report found that “Palestinian armed groups were present in urban areas during the military operations and launched rockets from urban areas” thus endangering the civilian populations.  The Report acknowledged, too, that Israel waged attacks that were indiscriminate as to the risk of killing civilians and questioned its execution of its ethics of proportionality.

Col. Gruber explained that the IDF gives a 48-hour warning to targeted areas so that civilians can leave a house that is scheduled to be destroyed. British commander Kemp similarly said that the IDF “took extraordinary measures to give Gaza civilians notice of targeted areas, dropping over 2 million leaflets, and making over 100,000 phone calls.” The Goldstone report, however, concluded that the efforts were not always credible or effective and said that “the fact that a warning was issued does not relieve a commander and his subordinates of taking all other feasible measures to distinguish between civilians and combatants.”

Col. Gruber pointed out instances of Palestinian terrorists using children as shields in order to avoid IDF bombers and snipers. Col. Gruber said that the terrorists do this because they understand that IDF forces avoid such collateral damage. He said that “Jewish kids and Palestinian kids are equal” to him, adding “I won’t kill a kid.”

Col. Gruber described his mother’s survival of a concentration camp, losing most of her family to the gas chamber, and barely surviving the death march to Hungary; he thus expressed his gratitude to be able to protect his family and “to protect the Jews in Israel.”

Sarah Carlsruh is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.


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